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Social Media Q & A Experiencing Growing Pains & Copycats

The resurgence in Q&A sites which heretofore were dominated by Yahoo Answers and WikiAnswers are due mainly to the popularity of Facebook and Twitter. Adding a social media component, Quora, Vyou, Stack Exchange and even Facebook are all testing the waters. However treading the fine line of scale to include a more broader, mainstream audience while maintaining a high quality of content is problematic. While more users attract advertisers - more users have a tendency to dummy down a service - and therein lies the dilemma.

All social networks have experienced these types of growing pains, and the results have not been all that appealing. Facebook fans pages populate at the rate of 1000s per day - sometimes with titles created on a whim, such as "My Zodiac Sign Is Not A Joke" - and often with zero followers. Twitter accounts often take on pseudonyms to hide one's identity, with tweets bordering self-absorption. Web applications are available for both networks that can cost users - interested soley in building their numbers - up to hundreds of dollars to actually "purchase" fans and followers.

Taking on a much more elitist approach, a site like Vyou appeals to a younger demographic that is interested in not only an immediacy to their Q&A, but also prefers to speak to their followers on a one-to-one, via video chats. Differing markedly from the mistakes made by Chatroulette, these structured conversations allows users to give and receive advice from experts with embedded video posts.

Quora, dissimilar to Twitter and Facebook is not a branding site, but an informational exchange of ideas and resolutions. Managing a firm's Quora presence should not be the goal. The intention of the site is not to improve, counter or ingratiate a brand's image with clients and prospects. It's purpose is to address issues, that may or may not incorporate a brand's products and services.

Even if the site was used for branding purposes, since its user base hasn't scaled to significant numbers, the Q&A that is currently curated in the system wouldn't provide a brand with any significant feedback, no matter how sizable the company. Over time, the Quorasphere might produce insightful feedback for a brand and issues pertaining to their products and services - but self-promotion (we are told) should be reserved for other social networks.

If you don't believe this, just ask uberblogger Robert Scoble.Interesting enough, Quora's recent bump in early adopters came about this past December as a result of Scoble's passionate testimonials about the site. However, within less than a month, that same man issued a "Quora" apology on his blog to his fellow technocrats. In summary he received a lot of criticism for a series of malfeasance grievances directed toward him due to his tendency to wear his digital heart on his proverbial sleeve. In his January 31 posting, he outlines all the lines he was told he crossed on Quora, including, but not limited to narcissistic self-promotion, posting an excessive number of photos and flame-wars.

However with less than one million users, Quora certainly isn't a platform to attract a great number of advertisers - even though investors seem to be lining up in droves. Prominent parties helped Quora secure $11 million in venture financing from Benchmark Capital, putting its estimated valuation at $86 million.

Dissimilar to the pitfalls of Twitter and Facebook and even some of the older Q&A sites like Yahoo Answers, Quora addresses the "dummying down" issue by including moderators who weed out duplicated questions and unhelpful answers in addition to borrowing a recognizable feature - from the now outdated social bookmarking service, Digg - of voting up the best responses.

According to a NY Times report, Stack Exchange was a platform originally designed for programmers and Joel SpolskyJoel Spolskydevelopers who could share technical expertise with each other. Joel Spolsky, one its founders believes that his service stems from a desire to fill in the information gaps that Web search cannot satisy. And while he believes in keeping his community tightly knit, within less than 2 years the network has expanded to include 41 separate topic-specific sites.

Mark Zuckerberg, never at a loss to add additional layers to his ubiquitous social network has also been attracted to the new Q&A systems. His company has  been working on features that according to Meredith Chin "will be available to everyone in the U.S. within the next few weeks."

But again, in the hands of Facebook, a network that tries to be all things to all people, the level of discourse that will result could never reach the enlightened levels of the current crop of Q&A sites. By year end, it will be interesting to see if some of these "ooh, so shiny things" will fill a necessary void, jump the shark or fade from interest. Growing pains is a hard but necessary stage to endure. Any bets, who will come up winners? Or better yet, ask that question on Quora and see what kind of answers you get?

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Ron Callari
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